SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

By now we have talked about a couple of SDGs (1, 8 and 13) and we know that they were created by the UN, a political organization, in order to be implemented by the respective governments of its member states. This means that they mainly concern law-making, enforcing existing regulations, jurisdiction and so on, so they can feel quite abstract and unrelated to us as individuals. But as we have already seen that is not true, every single person, company and organization can also make changes in our way of producing and consuming goods in order to speed up the process of achieving these goals. In fact, the UN is counting on this to happen and that’s why they have included SDG 12 in their list of goals. This is the SDG that “officially” acknowledges the role consumerism plays in achieving sustainable development and transfers parts of the responsibility onto us.

What is SDG 12?

Ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Basically, SDG 12 encourages us to change the way we consume products in two simple steps: first by reducing our overall use of food, water, energy, so that we don’t exhaust our planet beyond its limits, and secondly, by choosing the products that are the least harmful to the environment as well as the people working to provide them. Sadly, at the moment the global life style is pretty much the exact opposite of this; we’re producing way more than the planet can provide, all of which is then distributed unfairly, so that we end up with huge volumes of waste while at the same time a big part of the population is living without food or clean drinking water.

Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. [1]

The key for changing the current situation and realizing SDG 12 is to “do more with less”, which means that we want to use less resources while still achieving economic growth and decent livelihoods for everyone. This can be done by developing and implementing techniques to use resources more efficiently and focusing on circular, regenerative economy, as we are starting to do with renewable energies for example. Countless such innovative methods exist already, from solar panels and energy efficient lightbulbs to clothing made from recycled materials, the problem is that many of them are not yet commonly used to replace old practices. That can be because they aren’t yet profitable for companies and thus not worth investing in, too expensive for the consumer or simply not available to them. So the challenge for law-makers but also producers and consumers becomes to create a situation where sustainable economy is more attractive than the traditional way not only because of ethical reasons but also because of financial and economic advantages.

If people worldwide switched to energy efficient lightbulbs, the world would save US$120 billion annually. [2]

Another very important issue is to reduce the ridiculous amount of waste that results from our consumption habits and that already poses immense problems, such as pollution of land and water or simply lack of repositories for these massive mountains of trash. Obviously these two steps go hand in hand: if we establish more circular economies based on reusable resources, we will automatically produce less waste. All of these changes need to take place along the entire supply chain, meaning that producers, transportation companies, distributors and consumers all need to combine their efforts and make improvements where they can.

What role does the coffee industry play?

As we have already seen, the coffee industry is responsible many problems when it comes to the working and living conditions of its farmers (SDGs 1 and 8). Exploitation and poverty are important issues that need to be addressed much more frequently and seriously than it is done at the moment. Additionally, coffee agriculture, transportation and consumption also leave a huge footprint on the planet as we have seen last time (SDG 13) and many parts of the industry have yet to act upon these environmental concerns. It is however absolutely essential that all of these problems are solved if we want our coffee to become sustainable.

The food sector accounts for around 30 per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions. [3]

Many of us drink coffee every day, it is the second most thought after commodity in the whole world (only surpassed by crude oil), so imagine the huge impact a change in its production and consumption patterns would have either directly or by influencing other industries. We can already see this process taking place right now: for example coffee is the most popular fair-trade product in the world [4] and as such has led to a rise in other fair-trade products such as cocoa and tea. But even on the coffee market fair-trade and/or organic beans make up only a small portion of the whole, proving that we still have a long way ahead of us. And while governments are implementing policies and laws to achieve sustainability, their work takes a long time to yield results.

That’s why we at Mamé Noka like many other companies have taken the initiative to effect change now: we work closely together with our farmers, build a lasting relationship with them and pay fair prices for their beans, so we know where our coffee comes from and the farmers can live a decent life. We also try to reduce waste and environmental impact wherever possible, for example by roasting locally and only using reusable containers to sell our coffee. We believe that all companies should provide information about the origin, working conditions and environmental impact linked to their product, so consumers can make an educated choice. The key to ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns and to achieving all SDGs is the working together of law-makers, producers and consumers.

So, what can you do?

Well, technically you already took the first step in towards sustainability in your life: awareness. By reading this (and our other SDG articles) you’ve become conscious of these issues and can now make changes in your lifestyle so it becomes more sustainable. Naturally, the ultimate goal is to spread awareness to everybody in our global society. So, talk about these topics with your friends and family, share information on different platforms available to you (maybe share this article?) and confront people or companies who’s practices work against the SDGs.

Every small action helps, find out what you can do

Once you’re conscious of the problem, it is time to educate yourself and learn which of your habits are damaging to the planet or harming other people in whatever way. Yes, this step is a little complicated and takes some time, but you don’t have to do it all at once and there are many helpful resources out there that can help you along the way. Check out the UN website for loads of information, or our article that explains how to make your morning cup of coffee more sustainable. Only when you have identified those areas of your lifestyle that are problematic, can you start changing them. As I said you don’t need to make these changes all at once nor do they have to be drastic, every small decision you make can have a huge impact towards sustainability.

While substantial environmental impacts from food occur in the production phase (agriculture, food processing), households influence these impacts through their dietary choices and habits. This consequently affects the environment through food-related energy consumption and waste generation. [5]

For instance, by choosing to buy local, eco-friendly products from sustainable companies you support their efforts and make sure that they are able to continue working towards sustainability in the future. If we as consumers collectively change our consumption habits and demand more sustainable products and services the economy will have to change their ways of producing goods on a large scale in order to satisfy the demand. Together we can make a change and only if we all work together can we achieve the SDGs by 2030.

Want to know more about…?
Sustainable development and SDGs in general: UN websites [1][2][3], The Guardian, TED Talk
SDG 12: [1][2]

1 thought on “SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

  1. Great post! Really informative and good to read 🙂


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